Corn-based ethanol is the bridge to reach cellulosic ethanol production. I think the recent move by Poet and the federal government will help narrow the gap in corn-based vs. cellulose-based energy. I think cellulosic is the way to go in the future... and it includes other benefits that accompany production.
A study done by the USDA and the University of Nebraska reveals that ethanol produced from switchgrass generates 540% more renewable energy than non-renewable energy consumed for production.
Cellulosic ethanol can also be produced from many things such as corn cobs, wheat straw, timber scraps, and citrus peels… as this article points out. This has the potential to incorporate many regions of South Dakota that are unable to grow corn.
Using switchgrass, as done in the USDA and UNL study, also provides a possible avenue for farmers and ranchers to harvest switchgrass on their fields which they have kept in the Conservation Reserve Program or other conservation trusts. This enables farmers and ranchers to benefit South Dakota’s wildlife habitat and hunting industry while generating income for their families. To my knowledge, studies on this particular mode of operation are still underway, and I look forward to the results.
One issue that concerns me about cellulosic ethanol, however, is extraction of nutrients from the soil when removing cornstalks, etc. Apparently, according to Poet, cellulosic fodder can be removed without diminishing soil nutrients. This is an important factor in the future of cellulosic ethanol in the future of South Dakota and look forward to learning more about this particular topic in the future.